The Art of Being You
While closing the door to my dad’s navy blue, Nissan SUV, I kept thinking about the short phrase he tells me every morning, “Be You.” After close to three years of high school, these two words have become a staple to the end of my morning rides to school with my dad. At first, I would brush off his words as “parent-talk,” however, as graduation grows closer, this phrase has formed into a new meaning, especially when I delve into my passion for art.
As soon as I learned about the principles of art and the formal qualities that are used to create an art piece, I began to see it everywhere I looked. For instance, when looking at an advertisement I would find the artistic decisions the designer made to catch the viewers attention or when passing a building I would observe the work of the architects that allow a visitor to have a pleasing experience. This is the beauty of art, it is used in endless amounts of form and medium to give people the freedom to express themselves, and find their true identities. For me, art has mirrored its unique characteristics and helped me to find my true identity in the world. It has revealed to me that there is no “right” way of going through life. Being unique from the people around you is not something to be ashamed of, but something that should be celebrated and shared.
A piece that I have created, and am most passionate about, is called “Be You”. This is a graphic design I created for the annual art show at my high school, and in my piece it presents the silhouette of an African American girl with her natural curly hair exposed. Behind the girl, I decided to place layers of different colors to represent all of the unique traits that make her, her. The piece as a whole symbolizes how beautiful it is to express and to communicate to the world what makes you, you. This concept is very important to me because growing up as a hispanic girl I have always looked very different from my fellow classmates, and in the past this upset me greatly. When I was in elementary school I wanted to look like my other classmates so much so, that when my family and I went on summer beach trips I would stay under an umbrella the entire time to prevent my skin from getting any more tan than it already was. However, as I grew older I learned that this difference is what makes me special and beautiful in the world and I should share that difference, instead of hide it.
When viewing my work, I want people to deeply reflect to discover if they are disregarding their own special qualities in order to fit into the norm of society. I want people to escape the reality of society and come into a world I have created in my piece, and reveal to them the power that individuality can hold in a society that is afraid that they will not be accepted for who they really are. I, Kathia Guzman, am an artist who strives to connect to the minds and souls of people all over the world. I am thrilled to grow in knowledge, to learn from my mentors, and to take this privilege to make a great impact on the world. I aim to use my messages to help people grow in love for themselves and the people around them. I want to help people realize their inner beauty so that they can celebrate the art of being you.
It was a Sunday morning. April 30th, 2017. My alarm went off right at 4:30 a.m., however, I had been awoken long before the incessant beeping by the butterflies in my stomach. This would be the day of my first sprint triathlon—a race that demanded a half-mile swim in the open ocean, my greatest fear. Months of endless training and 4 a.m. workouts had all led up to this day and it had finally come. By 6:30 a.m., after two hours of restlessly waiting, my wave was up to the starting line and the reality of the ocean swim hit me. I knew I was ready for this race physically, but the mental games began as negative thoughts flooded my head. Would I be able to finish? What if I get a cramp in the open water swim? Will my tendonitis flare up during the bike or running portions? To rebuild my courage, I gave myself a pep-talk and continuously thought positively as I told myself that I was ready for this strenuous race. As the starting gun was shot into the air, I was filled with adrenaline and numbly entered the choppy ocean which contained all of my greatest fears. I was surrounded by deep, cloudy waters and swimming bodies which kicked their legs and flailed their arms. Although swimming in the terrifying ocean was my least favorite leg of the race, I kept hearing the little voice inside of me strengthening me to finish and from then on, the rest of the race felt like a breeze as I went on to dominate the twelve-mile bike ride and five-kilometer run. The moment I saw the finish line, where my entire family was waiting—nearly two hours since I had seen them the starting line—I pushed out all of my energy and finished the race. My first sprint triathlon completed. My worst fear conquered. And the best part yet was that I placed first in the entire novice division revealing that hard work and defeating the once impossible always comes with not only physical awards like my medal and trophy but also a mental award that I was able to conquer my fear of the ocean.
Through building up of my self-confidence with discipline and passion for fitness I was able to overcome my phobia and have been empowered to try new experiences that are personally arduous. In embracing such challenges, I was inspired to compete in triathlons regularly and have since then used this drive to complete six others throughout Florida. I have also used this empowerment to face unfamiliar situations by attempting other personally intimidating activities. In January of 2019, I decided to compete in a beauty pageant and will be participating in another this November—a competition that is out of my safe haven considering the great amount of public speaking and stage time entailed. Even after sixteen years of dancing competitively on a stage, the idea of walking perfectly and speaking flawlessly to a crowd of people is a different sort of fear. However, these challenges and fears are what excite me and continue to push me into unknown feelings. They force me to replace any “what ifs” with “I will”. It is through my embracing of new opportunities and living out the unfamiliar that I have been able to value the characteristics that make me unique and push myself to my fullest potential.
This drive has also fostered in me a desire to inspire and teach others how to face their own fears, conquer what they once thought was impossible, and build up confidence in themselves. As a swim instructor at the Plant City YMCA, I have been blessed with the opportunity to teach younger children how to swim. With most of them scared of the water, teaching them positive self-talk and relating with them on a personal level, comforts them and ultimately allows them to dominate their fear of the pool. The rewarding feeling of my students going from terrified of the water, to having so much fun that they do not want to leave the pool, has encouraged me to continue facing upcoming challenges in my own life with a positive outlook and to inspire others to do the same.
All Grown Up
Each year on my birthday, my mom made me chocolate chip pancakes topped with smaller pancakes cut out into the year I had just turned. On my fourteenth birthday, I woke up with an empty feeling in my stomach. I didn’t get my pancakes that year because it was something we found we were unable to afford. Although I had never liked pancakes, they were something I found myself wishing for. In November of 2014, my dad was laid off. Although my family had lost the majority of our household income, my parents still felt that enrolling my sister and I in the top private schools would ultimately be their best investment. This choice, however, did not come easy. I remember numerous times when I would come home to a house with no internet connection, running water, electricity, and a nearly empty refrigerator. Seeing the sacrifices and struggles of my parents prompted me to take responsibility for my own needs.
I needed to find a way to help ease my parents’ monetary burdens, and the first idea that came to mind was getting a job. The April before my sixteenth birthday, I applied for countless positions and accepted the first offer I received: a hostess position at Panera bread. This wasn’t an ideal job, particularly because I was really introverted. The job, however, forced me to come out of my shell. After what seemed like shouting “Hot Bread” for a million times, I left the restaurant in search of a job with a higher pay and a new sense of confidence in myself. I came across Oak and Ola, a new restaurant that opened in Armature Works, a popular “food mall.” I applied for a hostess position online, and when I was interviewed by the Front of House Manager, I was hired instantaneously. I soon realized how different the environment was in comparison to Panera. Almost every weekend, a new celebrity would appear: movie directors, hockey players, makeup gurus, and WWE wrestlers. I had an immense amount of pressure on me, not only being the newest employee, but the youngest too. The stress of controlling how the restaurant functioned on a weekend night was something I found myself growing used to. I became someone people came to when they had a question or needed help. Being a full time student, I quickly learned how to prioritize my time. I was forced to figure out how to complete my school assignments along with all my extracurriculars and my new work schedule. Most of the time, people around me would wonder when I would have time to even be a kid, and to be completely honest, I found myself wondering it too. I struggled trying to find a balance between my social life, work schedule, and academic responsibilities. The biggest supporters of my hard work, and also the ones who kept me sane through it all, were my family, my boyfriend, and my best friends. They found ways to find a slightly spontaneous side of me, and they embraced it.
After experiencing the financial struggle that my family had undergone, I was forced to take action. With being employed in two different work environments, I was able to form into my stronger, more confident self. I learned that hard work makes the biggest impact in every aspect of life. Because of this epiphany, I was very fortunate to have the ability to provide for myself and my family when they were unable to. I ascertained how to shop at the grocery store on a budget. I explored different ways of buying clothes for myself, such as thrifting online and in person, because I wasn’t able to afford full priced items. I found out how to thrive in the real world at a young age and because of that, I grew up.
The Mark of Me
“What happened to the back of your arm?” My birthmark, in all its glory, is a rectangular shape and stretches up from just above my elbow to the middle of my arm. Over the course of my life, I have received many comments about the birthmark on the back of my right arm. Some of my favorites come from little kids who seem to be so fascinated that they can not look away. I have caught many of them staring at it and some of the more bold children will ask, “Why is your freckle so big?” I just laugh these comments off because they do not know any better. Sometimes, I will even get the occasional comment from my peers saying, “I have never seen a birthmark that big.” All these comments have never affected me, except for one. When I was at my routine dermatologist visit, where they measure my birthmark and take pictures of it, the dermatologist said, “The birthmark seems to be fine, but I would like to remove it eventually because it could become cancerous.” At the spry age of thirteen, even the mention of cancer worried me. My head began to swirl with all this anxiety over cancer. After my ten seconds of worry, I then began to understand that I was not diagnosed with skin cancer, but I was just told that I may have it removed as a precaution. This led me to my second thought: I do not want it removed. I will admit that most of the time I do not even give my birthmark a second thought. Considering that my birthmark is on the back of my arm, I do not notice it too much. However, on that day I raised my first question about my birthmark, “How could something that has been a part of me do so much damage to my body?” I felt a sense of attachment to my birthmark. Afterall, removing my birthmark would be like removing a part of myself. It has physically been a part of me since I was born and has grown with me throughout all stages of my life. It was there for my first steps and for my first car drive. I felt like if I did not have my birthmark, then I would not be Mary Kelly. Fortunately, I have yet to be forced to remove my birthmark. Through all the questions about my birthmark, I have gained a greater sense of humor and confidence. Besides, the remarks have not all been bad, I have also received comments of praise from people saying how it is “cool” and “unique to me”. This has helped me gain an appreciation for my birthmark and understand my individuality. “So what happened to my arm? It is a birthmark and I think it is pretty cool, thank you for asking.”
Cảm Ơ n, Mẹ (Thank You, Mom)
Thump. Thump. THUMP. As my mother’s footsteps got louder, sweat started to drip down my face. With all of her might, my four-year-old self tried to lift the heavy mattress as quickly as possible and shoved her favorite dress under it. I knew my mother was coming to steal my dress away from me and put it in the laundry. Now, this dress was not like any ordinary dress; it was an áo dài, a Vietnamese traditional dress. The bright red color and the floral design of the dress grasped my attention when my mother first showed it to me. Ever since then, I always wanted to keep my áo dài near me no matter where I went. It was so different and unique from all the other dresses I had seen on catalogs and television; to me, my áo dài was a symbol of my Vietnamese culture and identity.
When I look back at my childhood and the moments that I had with my mom, this is the first memory that comes to mind: my mother coming to steal my dress. This first memory brings a lot of nostalgia, happiness, and a little bit of sadness. The feeling of sadness isn’t because of the actual events that had taken place but because the memory reminded me of the fact that I had few personal moments with my mom while growing up.
Since my mom worked almost every day from morning to night time, it was rare for my mom to be home with me and my brother. My brother and I would get the chance to see her on Friday and Saturday evenings. But still, that wasn’t enough to spend time with her. She mainly spent that time running errands, cleaning the house, and teaching us Vietnamese. Despite the physically exhausting work that my mom had to do, at the end of the day, she would come home to us showing no signs of stress or exhaustion.
My mom didn’t attend college because she had to work to provide for her own family. With the disadvantage of a language barrier and a lack of education, she never had a stable job. Even though she didn’t earn a lot of money, my mom tried her best to never let me and my brother feel that we were a low-income family.
By witnessing my mom’s struggles and efforts to secure a better future for me and my brother, I have been inspired to be like her and do likewise whenever I encounter my obstacles. I learned at a young age that success isn’t all about being the best in your class or how much money you make. But rather, success can be defined as how much effort an individual is willing to give to accomplish a goal despite the obstacles and challenges that may be in the way.
During my elementary years, it was difficult for me to obtain good grades due to the frustration that I would get when I wasn’t able to understand a concept the first time around; no one in my family could really help me. I was reminded of my mom’s persistence and pushed myself to not be afraid by my failures. As a result, I have always put in the effort to go out of my way to make sure I understand a concept even if I don’t get it the first time around. Whether it’s staying after school to talk to a teacher or even asking a friend for help, I knew I had to be persistent if I wanted to succeed. I know I will struggle, and I have learned to accept that. What I won’t do is quit because my mom never did that. I am who I am today because of her, and I can’t thank her enough. Cảm ơn, mẹ (thank you, mom).
I have never thrown up before in my life. Well, except for when I was a baby but that doesn’t really count. Growing up, I used to freak out over everything, especially because I had a fear of throwing up. Whenever I saw people get sick, whether it be a cough or them looking uneasy, I’d be filled with anxiety. I always thought that whenever someone was sick it meant they were going to vomit. The internet told me that I had emetophobia, “a phobia that causes extreme anxiety when it pertains to vomiting.”
I didn’t know that my fear had a term because at the time I was only worried about how it made me feel. Every Wednesday, the whole school would go to church, and it would be extremely hot which made students get sick and pass out every single time. Every mass I went to from the ages of seven to twelve, I would see people around me become ill and I’d lose it; I would bite my hair or pick at my nails to the point where it looked like I didn’t really have any, and my right leg would start bouncing up and down like crazy; I’d have to excuse myself every time to go for a walk or get water so that I could try to calm down. Not only did I get looks that made me feel like I was insane from my classmates but it was also starting to bother my teachers. Every time we went to church, and they would have me sit next to them and when they saw me acting up they wouldn’t let me leave. They kept telling me: “This habit needs to stop. You are fine.”
Eventually, my parents noticed, my episodes of freaking out had become a more frequent thing. It got to a point where I just couldn’t look or be around anyone that appeared to be sick, my mind would immediately go to “is that person going to throw up? Is that person sick?” and my face would go into a panic. Emetophobia was controlling my life. It controlled my thoughts and made me feel like I always had to be on the lookout for anyone that was sick. I felt like I had to avoid sick people like they were the plague.
Things are different now. I no longer freak out by simply going to church and seeing someone cough. I went to a therapist who taught me all about how it is okay to be sick and how being sick for a little is actually better for you in the long run. My parents were a lot of help too, my mom would tell me: “Sarah, people have to be sick in order to be better and have a stronger immune system.” My parents and my therapist taught me how to remain calm, focus on my breathing, and try to distract myself with other thoughts. I have grown out of my fear for the most part. I am actually able to sit through a whole mass without looking like I’m panicking or even feel like I’m panicking. Even my teachers noticed it and told me they were proud of me. Do I still get scared when I see someone throw up? Yes because in reality throwing up is really gross, but now, I just don’t pay attention or freak out. I realize that I don’t have a reason to, it’s not me being sick, I will be okay, that person will be okay, throwing up is not the end of the world.